Chapter 3 : Truth and Letters
| ||Rating: 12+||Chapter Reviews: 1|
Background: Font color:
Dudley and Harry, however, weren’t.
The summer holidays were the start of the end, as far as they were concerned. After the holidays were over they would be at different, separate, schools. Mr Dursley had tried to get Harry admitted to Smeltings along with Dudley but the school had said that, “regrettably, Harry’s grades are not at the standard required for admission”. Harry wasn’t the brightest student, he knew that, but his grades were not terrible, either. Most of his teachers considered him to be “somewhere in the top ten – when he applies himself” but, whatever the real reason, Smeltings rejected him.
Harry felt lost and alone. He knew he was different to Dudley and that he wasn’t the Dursleys’ son, but now, more than ever before, he considered himself to be apart from them. He took to spending as much time as possible out of the house, wandering around and avoiding thinking about the end of the holidays when everything was going to change. He didn’t want to go to Stonewall High, the local public school, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. Some of his other classmates were going to be going there as well, but he couldn’t be himself around them the way he could with Dudley. They wouldn’t understand.
Harry had a secret, one he had shared, long ago, with Dudley, but it was a secret he didn’t understand and, sometimes, seemed untrue. Dudley was convinced that what Harry could do depended on how happy or angry Harry was – so far there didn’t seem to be anything about Harry being sad. When he was happy flowers bloomed and a bouquet of flowers in the Dursley house could live for months without being attended to. When he was angry, however, strange things happened – usually to Marge but sometimes to others.
Harry could do magic.
‘Maybe it’s something your parents did,’ said Dudley when he and Harry talked about it one Christmas. ‘Aunt Marge said your Dad was some sort of magician but maybe this is a present or a way of protecting you. Magical love. In the accident.’
It was an idea that Harry liked but it was also one that grieved him at times. Was he alive because his parents had saved him somehow? Some magical way? Aunt Petunia had told him that his scar was because of the car accident that his parents had been killed in, but Harry sometimes wondered if, maybe, it was something else. There were stories of lost princes with markings on them, maybe it was something like that.
Magic wasn’t so great, though. Magic kept getting him into trouble.
Magic wasn’t real.
Midway through the first week of July, as the boys and Aunt Petunia shopped for new uniforms, Harry’s anxiety began to increase. It didn’t help that his Aunt was looking more nervous as the days went by but that day, as they stepped out of the shoe store, a short man wearing a violet cape suddenly stopped in front of them and bowed at Harry. Harry was stunned but Aunt Petunia looked terrified.
Later that night, Harry tossed and turned in his bed. Sleep kept evading him and, although his thoughts were mostly about what life would be like at the new school, he couldn’t help but wonder what was making his Aunt behave so strangely. She kept forgetting things or would just sit in the kitchen and stare at something in her hands.
The late night news was on the television but when Harry placed his head against the cool wall he heard something else – a conversation between his Aunt and Uncle:
‘He’s going to be eleven soon. If what happened to your sister happens to him-’
‘We have to tell him,’ said Aunt Petunia. ‘We have to talk to him.’
‘He’s going to hate us, Petunia. He’s going to hate us for lying to him all these years.’
‘He won’t. He’ll understand.’
‘He’s a good boy and I’m glad we took him in and raised him, but… I don’t want him to hate me.’
Harry strained to hear more but the only sounds were of Aunt Petunia sniffling and then, like a soft whisper, she said, ‘There’s nothing to hate. You’ll see.’
Breakfast the following morning was a quiet affair and Dudley looked around the table and tried to understand what it was he was missing. After the boys attended to the dishes, Mr and Mrs Dursley called them to the living room. They looked so solemn as they sat on the sofa together and gestured for the boys to stand in front of the fireplace and, looking over at the armchair Mr Dudley always sat in, Harry and Dudley felt afraid.
‘Harry,’ said Mr Dudley, leaning forward and clutching his hands together. He looked away from the boys and down at the coffee table and the small bouquet of flowers in a vase in the middle of the table.
‘S-Sir?’ said Harry, and all three of the Dursleys looked at him in shock. Harry had never called Mr Dursley ‘Sir’, not unless Marge or someone like her was around. It was always ‘Uncle Vernon’ or ‘Uncle’.
Vernon turned to Petunia and held her hand. ‘I can’t do it,’ he said. ‘I can’t.’ She patted his hand and then squeezed it a little.
‘I… I understand if it’s time for me to go,’ said Harry loudly, his voice quivering.
Dudley looked at his parents and then at Harry and then back at Harry again. ‘What’s going on? Where’s Harry supposed to be going?’
‘Nowhere,’ said Mr Dursley, and he stood up and cleared his throat. ‘Harry isn’t going anywhere. This is his home.’
‘Then… why did you call us in here? What’s happening?’
‘It’s time to tell you a story,’ said Mrs Dursley. ‘Both of you.’
Mr Dursley stepped over to the window and looked out on to the houses facing theirs. ‘It’s a story from before either of you were born but it’s one you both need to know.’
‘It’s a story about your mother and father, Harry. My sister and her husband.’
Suddenly a fire started in the fireplace and Harry and Dudley stepped away, looking at each other uncertainly, and then, confused at the lack of reaction from Mr and Mrs Dursley, they slowly sat down on either side of the fireplace, as Mrs Dursley directed them to.
‘When your mother was a little younger than you she showed me a secret. It was a beautiful secret but it frightened her, too. She showed it to me because she thought and hoped that I would understand it and maybe have a secret like it.’ Mrs Dursley smiled and shook her head. ‘It was a beautiful secret but it was only Lily’s.’ She reached for the flowers and pulled one out of the vase. ‘Lily had a gift. Magic. She could make leaves dance to music, flowers bud and bloom, and light up the room with a gesture. When she realised that I couldn’t do what she could, she was frightened. She knew she was different and she didn’t want to be. I knew she was different and I wanted to be like her.’
Aunt Petunia sat up a little straighter and took in a few breaths. ‘There was a boy who lived nearby. A small boy with dark and greasy hair. I never liked him but I’m mature enough, now, to admit that… that some of that was because he could do what Lily could. He understood it and could talk to her about it, and I lost my best friend.
‘The boy told Lily about wizards and witches and how there was magic all around us. He told her of a school, far away, where they taught magic and other things. He told her that before she turned eleven she would be invited to the school and that she should go and that he would be there with her.
‘He told her all these things and I… I grew jealous. I wanted to go there, too. I wanted to be magical, too. But I couldn’t. I’m not magical.’
‘Yes, you are,’ whispered Harry, and Aunt Petunia smiled and shook her head.
‘So she left. Our parents were so proud, even though it was a world we couldn’t be part of. She tried to share it with us, she did. In the holidays she would come back with gifts and sweets – fantastic things that seemed to have come from storybooks. Chocolate frogs that leaped away if you didn’t catch them quickly enough,’ she laughed, softly, at the memory, and sniffed. ‘Over time, Lily and I drifted apart. I’m to blame more than-’
‘No,’ said Mr Dudley gruffly. ‘No, we would have made things right in the end.’ He turned to Harry and said, ‘I’m not a special man, Harry, I’ve always known that, but when your Aunt liked me it was like my world was better than it had ever been. I can be loud and boisterous and arrogant, but that’s been tamed in me over the years. I’m ‘normal’, I think. I’m ‘normal’ in that there isn’t an ounce of magic or imagination in me, so when I see people walking around in funny cloaks or,’ he gestured at the fire, ‘things like that happening, I get worked up. I got worked up.’
‘We’ve changed, though, Harry,’ said Aunt Petunia. ‘After Lily died…’ She paused and looked at her nephew and then, tears streaming down her face, she said, ‘after Lily was murdered,’ the fire roared and Dudley yelped and moved to the side and then watched, awed, as his parents and Harry sat there as the words sunk in.
‘Murdered?’ Harry whispered, and Mr and Mrs Dursley nodded. ‘But… the car accident. My scar. I don’t understand.’
Aunt Petunia sobbed and covered her face, and Uncle Vernon hurried over to her and put his arm around her. Harry grabbed a box of tissues and held them out. ‘Your mother and father came to our wedding,’ said Mr Dursley. Harry knew that, he had three pictures from the wedding, pictures which had the Dursleys and the Potters together. ‘Your father and I had… well, we had an argument towards the end of the night. We said a few things and I swore that until he apologised I wouldn’t see either of them again.’
Aunt Petunia looked up, her eyes red and puffy. ‘We were still young, that’s what I like to believe. We held on to the grudge and refused to attend their wedding or invite them to Dudley’s christening or… acknowledge your birth.
‘Your mother used to write to me but the letters became smaller and less frequent and I stopped reading them after a while. I remember one of the last I read had said that things were becoming dangerous and that she wanted to make sure that I was safe, but I dismissed it as some kind of foolishness. I was happy. Content. I missed my sister, yes, but I had my husband and my son.
‘I dismissed what she said but something made me anxious. Something felt wrong, around me. She called a few times, which was something she almost never did, and I could hear it in her voice, and that worried me more, but I didn’t know what to do.
‘Then… then you came. On our doorstep, wrapped in a blanket.’
‘There was a letter,’ said Mr Dursley, ‘and it explained what had happened. It explained, but it was still so unbelievable, and we didn’t know what to think.’
‘Part of Lily’s wedding gift to me was this necklace,’ Aunt Petunia held out a long chain and opened her hand. In her palm was a small locket. ‘It had two pictures inside. One was of me; a portrait your mother had taken when I was eighteen. The other was of your mother. I hadn’t opened it since the wedding day, but I opened it after reading the letter and… and the one of your Mum… of Lily… it was blank.’
‘I remember the night before,’ said Mr Dursley as he rocked his wife a little, ‘I had thought to myself that it was time to reach back out to your parents. Family is family, isn’t it?’ Both boys nodded. ‘Too little too late.’
‘They were gone. Lily was gone,’ sobbed Aunt Petunia.
Harry was confused. What his Aunt and Uncle were saying didn’t make sense – okay, magic made some sense with some of the things that had happened in his life but if there was magic out there then wouldn’t it be something that everyone knew about? What they were describing seemed to be more than card tricks or sawing someone in half. And how they were saying it…
Aunt Petunia blew her nose and stood up. ‘Harry, the reason we’re telling you this is because it will be time for… for the people of the magical world to come and take you away from us, and I don’t want that to happen.
‘Your mother and father were murdered. They were murdered by some… some dark wizard. That’s what we were told. Your parents had been working to stop this man and his friends and lost their lives doing so. I lost my sister and you lost your mother and father, and I… Harry, I can’t let you go there. You’re safe here, that’s why they gave you to us.’
‘The big man in my dreams. The one on the motorcycle,’ Harry whispered loudly. ‘That strange man outside the shop who bowed at me. They’re from the magical world?’
Mr and Mrs Dursley nodded.
‘What are you saying?’ asked Dudley.
‘Harry’s a wizard,’ said Uncle Vernon, and Dudley grinned.
‘And my scar?’
‘The man who explained things to us, the one who wrote the letter, he said the scar was the result of… of the dark wizard’s attempt at killing you.’
‘What?’ shouted Harry and Dudley in unison.
‘The wizard was after you, Harry. He killed your parents to get to you.’
Stunned, Harry slumped to the floor, his legs uncrossed and splayed and his head knocked against the bricks of the fireplace.
Dudley scrambled over to him, glancing at the dying fire, and helped his cousin to sit upright. ‘I only joked about it, Harry, I promise. I never knew…’
‘I need to go to my room,’ said Harry, allowing Dudley to help him to his feet.
Harry didn’t come out of his room at lunch time and the Dursleys didn’t press him. He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about what he had been told. His parents had died because of him. Someone, for some reason, wanted to kill him when he was a baby. They failed because of his parents. They failed and Harry had been given to the Dursleys to be kept safe.
At dinner Harry ventured out. The Dursleys smiled at him but no one said anything. Dudley had been trying on his new Smeltings uniform and he did not like the look of it. ‘What’s wrong with trousers,’ he wondered aloud, and his father snorted and said that he had always wondered the same thing.
‘I’m sorry about before,’ said Harry.
‘There’s nothing for you to be sorry about,’ said Mr Dursley, and he picked up Harry’s plate and ladled in some soup. ‘But if you have any questions, any at all, then all you have to do is ask.’
‘We don’t have all the answers,’ said Aunt Petunia, ‘but we’ll tell you everything we know.’
No one said anything about magic or the past for the next few days but, one morning, as Harry picked up the post, he saw something that made his heart leap to his chest.
It was a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr H Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald-green ink. There was no stamp.
Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms: a lion, an eagle, and badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H.
‘Uncle Vernon!’ Harry shouted, and he stood up and walked to the kitchen. ‘It’s here.’
Vernon Dursley’s hand froze in mid-air, the fork he held quivered and the pieces of sausage and egg threatened to fall into his lap. He coughed and placed his fork down and Harry handed him the letter. Aunt Petunia came to stand behind him and nodded, it looked like the one her sister had received all those years ago.
‘Do you mind if I open it?’ he asked Harry. Harry shook his head and moved to sit next to Dudley. Mr Dursley coughed again and slid his finger behind the seal and tugged… and nothing happened. The letter didn’t open. He harrumphed and shook his head and handed the envelope back to Harry. ‘Looks like it’s to be opened by you only.’
Harry took the envelope and quickly tugged on the seal and pulled out the letter. Without looking at it he handed it back to Mr Dursley and stared at his plate, waiting. Mr Dursley read aloud:
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Surpreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Mr Potter
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
‘So, it’s official, you’ve got a place at the magic school.’
‘What do they mean by owl?’ asked Harry.
‘It’s how they deliver the post,’ said Aunt Petunia, and there was a small smile on her face. ‘Lily used to write to me when she was at the school and the owl would sit there waiting for me to give it a letter in reply. Quite annoying they were at times. Quite annoying.’
‘But, there’s no owl, so how can I tell them that I’m not going?’
‘Well,’ said Mr Dursley, ‘it says they’re waiting for one but that could also mean that if you don’t answer then they’ll take that to mean you aren’t attending.’
Harry nodded and reached for some toast.
‘We should move you upstairs again,’ said Aunt Petunia as she poured him some juice.
‘Why? I like my room.’
‘Well, you’re a growing boy, you need space.’
The rest of the day was uneventful but the next day saw the arrival of two more letters, which Harry tore up and threw away. The three letters the following day annoyed him and, that evening, Mr Dursley proposed a cross-country family road trip. At every place they stopped at there was a letter waiting for them, and Harry found himself getting more and more annoyed.
For ten years he had been living with the Dursley and now these ‘magic people’ wanted him to know them? Ten years of being normal and now all this strangeness?
‘If they would let an owl stay for a little while,’ said Harry as they sat for breakfast at the Railview Hotel in Cokeworth, ‘then I could write them “No”.’
‘Do you really want to go to Stonewall High?’ Dudley asked him later.
‘Well, I heard they stuff people’s heads down the toilet on the first day.’
They both laughed, but Dudley’s question made Harry wonder: what if he did go to this Hogwarts place?
On the night of July 30, the four of them sat around a table in the old Lower Lighthouse on the Calf of Man. There had been no letter when they arrived that afternoon, and all of them took that as a sign that the end was near. The wardens – the only two people who lived on the island – had already turned in for the night, and Aunt Petunia paced in front of the oven waiting for the cake she was baking.
‘Just one more day to go,’ said Dudley, ‘but this has been kind of fun.’
A storm raged outside, growing more furious as the night went on. None of them could sleep, so they played some games and talked late into the night. At around ten minutes to midnight, Aunt Petunia placed the cake, with a solitary candle in the middle, on the table. She apologised for it not being up to her usual standard and then sat with them, and waited.
‘Five minutes,’ said Mr Dursley. Something creaked outside and all four of them looked towards the door.
Three minutes, and the storm threatened to lift the building and take it away.
One minute and Harry would be eleven. Aunt Petunia quickly lit the candle.
The wind howled louder and the four of them held hands.
‘Thank you for being my family,’ Harry said softly.
The lighthouse shook and the four of them yelped. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.
(Note: the text of the letter is from Chapter 4 of The Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone)
Other Similar Stories
by Jane Noble
Finding a ne...